Only in the final countdown will the value of yesterday’s point at Brentford become clear, but given the general paucity of performance and adversity that was overcome to earn it, it feels like it could be a significant moment.
On Saturday, against FLDC, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but given the way events at Griffin Park panned out, this has to be viewed as a point gained, especially with Leeds and West Brom both losing. The real beneficiaries of yesterday were Sheffield United… unfortunately.
But, as Daniel Farke no doubt impresses upon his men on a daily basis, time spent analysing and agonising over the results of others is futile, and what’s simply needed (although it’s far from simple) is to ride out this difficult spell while still picking up points.
And that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Minus some of our big-hitters, two more of whom were forced to depart the fray yesterday, Farke’s resources are being stretched to the limit, yet still, somehow from somewhere, this bunch find the mental resolve to dig out results from the unlikeliest of scenarios.
As always, the post-match analysis could be a list of ‘what ifs’ – and there is no denying it could have been a very different half-time team talk for Farke if referee Gavin Ward’s vision had not been obscured when Teemu Pukki was poleaxed in the box at 0-0 – but it’s undeniable that for the opening 45 City looked leggy, jaded and off the pace.
By contrast, Brentford looked sharp, lively and progressive, and like a side whose form is on an upward curve – which is what they are. Neutral observers who were unaware of the respective backstories would have had the Bees, not the Canaries, pencilled in as promotion hopefuls.
There were mitigating factors of course for City’s struggle, but not all of them out of their control. The tired legs and sluggishness were the result of the heavy load over the Festive period, but Farke decided to give those who succumbed to that late horror show against Derby the chance to right the wrongs.
It was a brave, considered call that almost backfired, but still, I applaud the sentiment, in particular his decision to *not* remove Christoph Zimmermann from the firing line in preference to the fit-again Grant Hanley, but instead offer him an immediate chance to rebuild his shattered confidence.
Many questioned it – and after a hesitant opening half hour it was a valid concern – but the German grew into the game and emerged the better for it. Had he have been left to stew on the bench, or even back in Norwich, his mindset today at Colney would have been very different. Some called it a mistake; I call it good man management.
Yet the decision to make no changes may have ultimately contributed to the muscle injuries sustained by Marco Stiepermann and Alex Tettey, but with a threadbare squad Team Farke – sports scientists et al – have an unenviable balancing act to achieve: to not upset the rhythm and to pick up points, while trying to keep the squad fresh and energised.
It was a tough call, but ultimately City ended the half minus Stiepermann, with three of the back four on a yellow and having been under the cosh for long spells. To have gone in just a goal down and with still eleven men on the pitch was, as it transpired, something of a bonus.
The goal conceded needs little explanation other than to say it was the third goal in two games that came as a result of a corner. Much has been made of City’s variation on zonal marking but, personally, I have no problem with it if – big if – it’s executed properly.
From my probably overly simplistic viewpoint, it necessitates the defenders on the edge of the six-yard box defending their zones’ while the next bank of players – from the six-yard box to the penalty area – blocking off the runners, preventing them getting ‘the run’ on the zonal markers. Clearly, at least one element of this didn’t work yesterday and it looked horribly simple for the Bees to go ahead.
It just needs to be done better. Colney and corner routines will definitely be a thing over this next week or two.
But, having gone behind, it was the reaction to it that was most impressive, particularly after Farke had had half-time to clear the fuddled minds and tweak the formation to make City a more potent force. And while the second period didn’t see City at their fluent best, it was a vast improvement on what had gone before.
Urged on by the Yellow Army behind Bentley’s goal, it was a question of probing and probing until an opening was eventually forthcoming, and when it arrived, Timm Klose’s deflected header was just about what City deserved. Just about.
Still there was the threat of Brentford’s lively attack to quell – both before and after the equaliser – and can we now lay to rest the daft ‘Tim Krul isn’t good enough’ narrative after those two absolutely breathtaking second-half saves? Both were right out of the top drawer and were worth a goal at the other end.
That Dennis Sbreny nearly snatched it for City, with a left-footed shot he dragged inches wide, was a testament to this group’s desire and belief in going for the win, but defeat would have been harsh on Brentford.
So, a point, we edge closer to Leeds, and now have an FA Cup weekend over which player rotation can be used without the risk of compromising a promotion push.
2018 wasn’t so bad, was it? Okay, the nerves may be a bit shredded, but if day one of 2019 is anything to go by, then we’d better get used to it.
Never Mind the Danger